Is Aikido 100 percent Ukemi?
Ukemi is one of those subjects that seem to keep appearing within common debate among aikidoka. Much has been written on the subject of ukemi and even DVD’s are now available displaying practice and development. In past editions the newsletter and scribe has been host to many articles and opinions on the subject.
On a basic level ukemi simply means to roll or take a break fall. As a beginner or novice student we go through the motions and exercises to learn the correct and safe forms of forward and backwards “break falls”. However, as previous articles have stressed there is more to ukemi than just “taking a fall”. As ukemi to certain instructors and ways of teaching mean different things.
I feel that there are points that directly relate to ukemi. These are contact, reaction, recovery and flexibility. However, these points also are of direct relevance to the way tori practices. So, if both uke and tori need to encompass contact, reaction, recovery and flexibility does this make Aikido 100% ukemi?
When performing a technique are tori performing their own form of ukemi? Are the elements of contact, reaction, recovery and flexibility just as important to tori as to uke? Taking each element I will examine each one and its relationship with ukemi to tori.
Within technique and indeed in general practice, contact needs to be established and then maintained by both tori and uke. Through an attack this is usually enforced upon the uke and uke must make sure that they maintain contact throughout the technique. Nonetheless, for tori to be able to use and manipulate ukes’ movement, tori should also create opportunities for him / her to maintain contact also. With continual direct contact with uke comes overall control of a technique and thus the ability to manipulate the techniques progression and ultimate outcome.
As we complete the technique only at the last moment should a projection be made and this contact disengaged. During the technique toris aim should be to keep physical, visual and contract through the centre. Throughout the technique uke is aiming to keep contact with tori.
Technique is a reaction to the attack from uke. The reaction of the tori should be sufficient enough at that at the beginning of the technique that he or she is able to evade the physical harm that is intended from the attack such as shomen-uchi. Toris’ reaction should positions him/her so that they are able to perform the desired technique. During the technique if the execution does not go to plan, then tori should have an open enough mind to change technique, indeed, react to ukes’ movement through ukemi.
One of the whole meanings behind ukemi is that the uke is able to recover from the actions enforced upon him/her by tori so that they can respond to the remainder of the technique. Within this recovery may be the opportunity to perform Kaishi waza (reversal technique)
Throughout the technique as tori moves they are continually recovering their position, kokyuho, centre, movement and advantage over the uke. This essentially is achieved via body movement or the dynamics of the technique through continual movement. This continual movement should lead to flowing nature that is almost a trademark of aikido.
Flexibility (body and mind)
An aikidoka needs to be flexible throughout their training. For example, if an aikidoka just learns one way of performing ikkyo with one person, they are at risk of becoming too familiar with that particular way of practice. When this aikidoka then practices with another uke that they are not used to, will they have flexibility to cope efficiently with the uke? I say no, as they conditioned themselves by training with only one person or style of practice.
Flexibility of the mind is almost a self fulfilling prophesy for an aikidoka as it enables them to become reactional to situations and enables recovery with techniques. This flexibility within toris’ practice enable them to deal with a great deal of different uke, large, small, short, wide, heavy, light.
I feel that the though aikido is not 100% aikido as suggested at the beginning of this article, that toris’ practice can focus on those same elements that make up ukemi. Importantly, there is also the need for tori to learn from uke and not just use them as a aid to practice their technique. Analysing how uke (especially at a more senior level) responds to different and changing technique can enable a greater understanding in everyday aikido practice.